On Friday, Shardul Thakur became the hero for the Indian team as his all-round performance not only helped him to get the ‘Man of the Match’ award but also a series win for the Indian team. While everything seems rosy and seemed to click yesterday, Thakur’s fledgling international career hasn’t been so straightforward.
While the selectors have shown their faith in Thakur, fans have regularly questioned his presence in India’s squads and asked for other bowlers to be given a chance as the Mumbaikar turned out to be expensive on quite a few occasions. His easy pace deliveries were often targeted by opposition batsmen while trying to accelerate.
Further, if at all, fans also wondered whether India were playing Thakur in the wrong format as even some experts believe that his bowling is more suited to the longest format of the game and not limited overs cricket.
Such questions might still linger for Thakur but perhaps he knows that this is just part and parcel of being an Indian cricketer. After all, his performances in the two T20Is against Sri Lanka were so confident and resounding that it didn’t look like Thakur was a man in search of good performances.
After delivering a superb bowling performance in Indore where he picked up three wickets in an economical spell, Thakur’s day at Pune started off with the bat itself. Even though quite a few people would have been aware that Thakur was more than a capable batsman, the 28-year’s brilliant cameo was completely unexpected.
With India losing their way after a fantastic platform from the openers KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan, a total around 180-185 would have been predicted. But with Thakur launching bowlers like Lasith Malinga and Lahiru Kumara into the stands, India posted a daunting 201-6 eventually. Of course, Manish Pandey played a pivotal role too with his 18-ball 31 but it was arguably Thakur – like in the ODI series decider against West Indies last month – who provided the necessary impetus in the back-end.
The quality of the shots that Thakur played was also admirable as he first pulled a half-tracker from Malinga to long-on. Incidentally, this was the same bowler who he faced in the IPL final last year and the fortunes were completely different. As they say, confidence can make anyone a completely different player.
In the next over, the spectacle became even better as Thakur backed away and played a gorgeous shot on the up over long-off. It was a short ball from Kumara and Thakur casually played an extended drive to pick up another six. Off the very next ball, Thakur smashed another one over the cover region for a boundary to end with an unbeaten 21-run knock.
With the unexpected batting job turning out to be massive success, Thakur would have been positive about yet another positive showing with the ball. However, his spell didn’t get off to a great start as Avishka Fernando smashed a massive six off just the second delivery of the over.
While a typical fast bowler’s response of bowling a bouncer right after a boundary wasn’t seen, Thakur roared back by dismissing Avishka in the next delivery itself. It was a normal good length delivery but the Sri Lankan opener gave an easy catch to Shreyas Iyer while trying to pierce the off-side ring.
Yet again, Thakur was on a high and this was seen when he bowled three beautiful outswingers to keep the new batsman Oshada Fernando on his toes. Although his second over didn’t go too well, the right-arm pacer came back to dismiss Shanaka with a neat catch off his own bowling. Shanaka was outdone by Thakur’s pacey short ball with the Sri Lankan all-rounder only managing to provide a tame caught-and-bowled chance.
On the whole, the 14th over bowled by Thakur only cost two runs with the whole spell going for a mere 19 runs. This all-round performance with bat and ball ensured that Thakur was chosen as the ‘Man of the Match’ award ahead of Navdeep Saini and half-centurions KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan.
In the end, Thakur returned two consecutive good performance at Indore and Pune. The fact that Thakur might have won the ‘Man of the Series’ award if not for Navdeep Saini just reflects how good he has been in this T20I series.
Like already mentioned, there will be doubters no matter who the player is or what kind of form he is in but Thakur presented a strong case for his continued inclusion with these efforts. While a disciplined bowling performance might have been enough on its own, Thakur added an extra string to his bow through his handy power-hitting during the final overs. With the Indian team focusing a lot on batting depth, these performances from Thakur might have just managed to strike the right chord in his limited-overs cricket career at least for the near future. After all, doing whatever is in your hands perfectly is the maximum that can be expected out of a player.